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In the Middle of a Groundswell

Posted on : 08-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service, Living in Philadelphia

Tags: ,


Over the past 18 months, some would say that I am living within the groundswell, but since Friday I have truly been witnessing it first hand.  I have always felt that groundswell typically would be large scale and involving social media, but in this situation I have learned that it can happen wherever multiple Customers can communicate with each other.

I should start the story off by saying parents, including myself, become very attached to really good care givers for their children.  For me it takes a lot, but this is the story of one such exceptional person.  Her name is Sam, and until Friday she was the director of our daycare, Children of America.   I am going to try to stay unbiased in this because I am really trying to share a story about a groundswell.  The daycare has been very good to us, and I am sure many would take credit, but to me it was how our center ran, which I credit Sam.  We have reported issues to her, and they were immediately addressed.  Including 2 teachers that were no longer there shortly after we gave the feedback.  Anyway the story starts last Thursday.  We arrived later then usual and in our mailbox was a notice that Sam would be leaving effective the next day.  They would have a party 7-9 in the morning.  The letter was signed by the regional director.  It also stated the district director would be taking Sam’s place until a new director was identified.  We did not realize it, but there were 2 problems with the letter.  First Sam does not work at 7 on Friday’s, she works at 9.  Second, the letter was not placed in mailboxes until after many kids were already picked up.

So I am thinking there are a few key components  to a groundswell:  passion and a negative Customer experience, like poor communication

But there is another key component, means of communication.  The next morning it all began.  Early in the morning an email came through asking about a rumor that Sam was leaving.  I did not realize it, but many of the family members were connected via email.  Based on the review of the emails, everyone was irritated that they were not informed ahead of time of Sam’s departure.  I think I know what the issue here was.  Sam was leaving to be a regional director for a competing firm, so following procedure the company is paying her for the 2 weeks and asked her to leave.  I can not take offense to this because I have implemented this elsewhere.  At the same time, if it were me I would have tried to find a way to retain this employee (in my opinion she is that good).  So the emails continued and calls started to the regional director.  Then discussions started about the district director that was planning to work at the center.  Needless to say they were not complimentary about either of them, words such as demeaning, condescending, intrusive, and creepy.  I have never really met either, so I am not sure but these emails are my first impression.  I hope people remember that this is due to the passion people feel for their children and the best possible care for their children.  The statements are not personal, just the passion coming out.

The next thing I know emails are now flying to the CEO and other leaders of the company.  It led to some good conversations, but then a response was sent to the list from one of the leaders, Jim.  It was really a bulleted list of talking points and not a conversational email, but it was an attempt to provide the companies position.  The email even included a phone number to call him over the weekend if there were concerns.  They also made sure the regional and district manager were at the location when it opened today on Monday morning.   This may have helped a few, but it further agitated some on the chain.  So then the one person decided to call Jim.  According to the many emails on the topic, lets just say  the conversation did not go as you would have expected.  Obviously I was not on the calls but perception is reality and the group was provided a certain viewpoint.  According to the one email he yelled at the Customer and told her to follow Sam and leave.  Needless to say things were blowing up much further and truthfully control was lost.

Groundswell can happen wherever there is passion, negative experience and communication among a group.  The control is not there and you may not even have a say in how it plays out.  What this taught me is everyone has to be on top of their game when dealing with any Customer.  They need to create the right experience.  When passion is there, be careful what you say, and listening may be the best recourse.   In an email I sent to Jim on Friday night was a recommendation that they apologize to the families for the miscommunication, and I thought it would also be a good idea to invite the families to be a part of the hiring process.  This may not be the usual approach but based on everything I was reading this seemed to make the most sense and would start to diffuse the trouble.  Unfortunately with the emails today about the phone conversation, it may be lost cause.  It is really sad to see because the teachers at the school are great, I love the fact that they supply lunch, and are opened during many of the holidays.  But this little activity over the past 5 days will change the feeling for many, whether due to real circumstances or not.  This was a large groundswell for a relatively minor issue that will define this brand for a long time, especially among the families at our location.

I am hopeful for recovery, but it is so much harder when a brand loses control over the situation.  It is interesting to watch.  Have you ever seen a groundswell?